Time is flying, but a lot has happened since I graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2016.  For starters, I completed construction of my recording studio and equipped it with everything but running water.  I spent a few thousand hours with my instruments and production tools – programming, performing, and laboring in sound design.  I’ve composed 150 songs (or at least, 150 song fragments).  I’ve also worked on my vocal technique, following the teachings of Berklee’s Anne Peckham and Jeannie Gagné, and also Melissa Cross (“Zen of Screaming”), but still haven’t found ‘my voice.’  That is, I’m not entirely satisfied with the sound of my vocals and am losing confidence.

Well, I might be a DIY musician, but vocal technique can’t be fixed in a vacuum, so I’m returning to Berklee for help.  The course is titled, “Popular Singing Styles:  Developing Your Sound.”  Looking over the syllabus, it’s tailor-made for my situation – a class dedicated to discovering each student’s vocal strengths and crafting the best possible tone in a given style.

Here’s the trouble I’m running into:  The tone of my songs is dark, but whenever I attempt a brooding or angry vocal performance, along the lines of Ian Curtis (Joy Division), Peter Murphy (Bauhaus), Morrissey (The Smiths) or Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), it usually comes off sounding fake or forced.  Or worse, amateurish.  No doubt, some of this is in my head and some of it can be improved with practice.  But, some of it almost certainly can’t – it just comes down to physiology and I honestly don’t know where my limits (or potential, if you’re a glass-half-full kinda optimistic/annoying person) begin and end.

To get technical, my voice falls in the bass range (or a bit lower – B2 to D4 in chest voice), but a strident nasal character puts my timbre closer to tenor Perry Farrell’s (Jane’s Addiction, Porno for Pyros).  Not really dark at all.  [But it works for him, so that’s encouraging.]  But, there are plenty of other vocal characteristics to consider – weight, timbre, transition points, head voice, etc.  There are also plenty of studio treatments to consider, from the cliché to the bizarre.  For example, Morrissey’s voice is characterful enough on its own, but I’ll argue that a vintage slap-back echo contributes heavily to his signature tone.  Likewise, Resnor likes to push his vocals through mad amounts of distortion.  And if we’re talking ‘bizarre,’ recall Yello’s 1985 hit single, “Oh Yeah.”  What are my best options?  It’s time to find out.

Another nice feature of Berklee’s online courses is the interaction and collaboration with classmates and faculty.  The course curriculum will, no doubt, improve my vocal technique, but an equal benefit might simply come from three months of constructive criticism.  If I can find a vocal sound I’m happy with and can get a few positive reviews from the class, it might generate the confidence and motivation I need to finish up these projects I’m working on.  At a minimum, it’ll force me to get off my ass (or, more accurately, quit dorking around with my synthesizers) and sing.  That’s the bottleneck du jour.

Wish me luck.